Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why You Don't Get to Blame the Police.

It’s time to stop blaming the police for a problem that is not their fault.  It's time for the people to own the problem.

Is the problem of police involved shootings of black men real?  Yes.  Unarmed black men are killed in police involved shootings at a much higher rate than other groups.  Who is to blame for this?

We can’t blame unarmed black men for being shot. That’s the moral equivalent of blaming women for being raped.  Even if an unarmed man is not fully cooperative with the police (which he should do) that does not call for the death penalty.

If the unarmed black men are not to blame, should we blame the police?  This may come as a shock to some people, but there’s not an annual national meeting of police officers to decide how many black men they will shoot in the upcoming year. There are plenty of communities around our nation where this is not a problem.  In many cities, police are protecting and affirming the rights of Black Lives Matter and other protest groups.  In many cities the protest groups are showing respect for the police.  

In many cases, we force police officers to choose from several bad options, and then condemn them for choosing a bad option.

Let’s put the blame where it belongs -voters.  Us.  We elect the politicians who set up our city law enforcement structures and appoint leaders who determine the tone and conduct of those police.  Ferguson, Missouri is an example of this problem.  A Department of Justice investigation revealed that Ferguson generated about 20% of city revenues through a Byzantine system of traffic fines, court fees, and charges in a system rigged to prey upon the poor. In Ferguson that mostly means blacks.  At the same time Ferguson voters enjoyed some of the lowest property tax rates in the St Louis County area.  Now that the fines and fees scheme has been exposed, voters are facing unpopular tax increase proposals.

Voters ultimately determine the practices and policies of law enforcement in their cities.  There is not a better example of this than Bull Connor, the infamous former Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama. This bigot led Birmingham police in some of the most brutal and repressive violations of human rights in the modern era of American law enforcement.  Beatings, shootings, and torture were all carried out in the name of preserving segregation.  Bull Connor ordered fire hoses to be used on black children.  He ordered attack dogs to be unleashed on black children.  Yet Bull Connor remained in his office, and directed Birmingham law enforcement, because voters loved his policies.  Deep down in their racist hearts, they wanted him to hurt those children, to do whatever it took to keep Birmingham “safe.”

Stop blaming the police, voters. Stop pretending that they are somehow doing this apart from the public will.  If your city is killing black men, then your city is the problem.  The problem is not police. The problem was Selma.  The problem was Birmingham.  The problem today is Baton Rogue.  The problem is Ferguson -a city that is 2/3 black but with a majority white mayor/council government paying the city expenses on the backs of poor blacks.

Vote for leaders who will respect the roles of law enforcement officers and stop using them as a source of revenue generation.  Elect people who will establish realistic guidelines for their police officers to engage the public in ways that de-escalate confrontational situations.  Start addressing the problem in your home town.

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